Elucidating empowerment in El Proyecto Bienestar (the Well-Being Project)


  • Julie Postma

    1. Julie Postma PhD RN Postdoctoral Fellow Women’s Health Nursing Research Training Grant, Department of Family and Child Nursing, University of Washington School of Nursing, Seattle, Washington, USA
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J. Postma: e-mail: jmpostma@u.washington.edu


Title. Elucidating empowerment in El Proyecto Bienestar (the Well-Being Project).

Aim.  This paper describes differences in how socioculturally diverse participants in one community-based participatory research project negotiated ‘empowerment’, and the implications of those differences for nurses involved in farmworker health and safety efforts.

Background.  Internationally, empowerment and community participation are increasingly being used as strategies to reduce health disparities. Theories of empowerment vary in the academic literature and their connotations vary across cultures.

Method.  Study participants were part of El Proyecto Bienestar, a community-based participatory research (CBPR) project whose aim was to identify and respond to occupational and environmental health threats in one Mexican-American farmworker community in the United States of America. Participant observation was used to audiorecord 18 participants in the third year (2006) of this 4-year project discussing future project activities. Discourse analysis was used to analyse the transcripts.

Results.  While participants agreed that ‘empowerment’ was central to the project, they had different perspectives on what the term meant and the role that the project should play in empowering the farmworker community. Empowerment discourses positioned the project in three ways: (1) as an instrument used to strengthen farmworkers’ collective political voice, (2) as an instrument used to represent multiple community interests and (3) as an instrument used to advocate on behalf of farmworkers. Individuals used multiple discourses signifying the complexity in participants’ roles and obligations.

Conclusions.  Balancing power and developing knowledge collaboratively requires understanding multiple approaches to empowerment. Community empowerment as an outcome should not come at the expense of individual empowerment as part of the CBPR process.